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Maryland Day: I Wouldn’t Miss It

Here’s why you shouldn’t either

In a state as old as Maryland — 378 years — historic tourism is big business. It’s like shows and shopping in New York, architecture in Chicago and monuments in D.C.
    Unless history is your hobby, however, you’re likely to leave Maryland’s many historic sites to the kids, who do them at school. Or save them for visiting friends and family.
    Maryland Day — the subject of this week’s special issue — gives you dozens of good reasons to get up and see what you’re missing.
    When you think about it, it’s neat to have an official state day. The State Board of Education established March 25 as Maryland Day in 1903 as a day for schools to honor the state’s history. The General Assembly authorized it as a state holiday in 1916.
    March 25, by the way, is not the day Lord Baltimore’s colonists landed, which was a few days earlier. It’s the day Roman Catholic priest Andrew White celebrated a mass of thanksgiving for the successful conclusion of a 123-day voyage.
    There’s no better place to feel the drama and imagine the human stories that led up to Maryland Day than St. Clement’s Island, where the mass was celebrated, or Historic St. Mary’s City, where the new colony was established.
    Throughout Chesapeake Country, you can see how far we’ve come since those rough encampments. Contrast the farming village excavated and recreated in Historic St. Mary’s City with the historic homes of Annapolis begun less than a century and a half later. Amazing ambition, determination and diligence is what that contrast shows you. Even more amazing: That same span is the distance between the founding of the Maryland colony, in part for religious freedom, and the creation of a new and historic nation in the Declaration of Independence.
    In a year that the American nation can’t seem to get any business done — or done right — the trip from St. Clement’s Island or St. Mary’s City to Historic Annapolis is a lesson in can-do-it-ness. It’s a spring tonic that can shake you out of your doldrums.
    In Annapolis and southern Anne Arundel County, the Four Rivers Heritage Area has rallied a couple of dozen heritage sites and organizations, businesses and communities to show their stuff on Maryland Day. The celebration has become so expansive it takes three days to fit it all in.
    For you, that spread means lots of choice. You can pick and choose by date, destination and distance as well as by the aspect of history that interests you.
    If grand historic homes are your thing, Maryland Day gives you Hammond-Harwood, William Paca and Chase Lloyd houses, each with special programs. Friday’s Chase Lloyd House event is my favorite: Formal tea for 25 with the retired ladies who make their home there. Joining the party will cost you $1; the two seatings require reservations.
    On the opposite domestic scale, you can visit single-room frontier homes at Historic St. Mary’s City, the Historic Village at Herrington Harbour North or Historic London Town and Garden.
    Spring gardens, historic boats, and environmental activities, including osprey hunts, are also yours for the having, all priced at $1 or less.
    Maryland Day 2012 is also geared to helping Girl Scouts earn their Maryland Heritage Patch. The event website, marylandday.org, lists where and what.
    It’s nice to pretend that Maryland history is all about winners, but that’s not a true story. This year’s celebration of Maryland Day includes the losers.
    We call the passengers of the Ark and Dove by the sanitized word colonists, but two I-words describe them as well: They were both immigrants and invaders. Neither of those, by today’s reckoning, is such a nice word. Both have come to mean takers, and that’s just what those colonists were of the land, lives and culture of the American Indians.
    Just this year, Maryland recognized the authenticity of the Piscataway Indian Nation and the Piscataway Conoy Tribe. Anthropologist and Indian affairs advocate Rebecca Seib speaks on that relationship on Maryland Day in Historic St. Mary’s City.
    Slaves bore the burden of Maryland history on their backs, enabling the early achievements that gave them no reward. You’ll learn about contributions of African Americans, including Ark passenger Mathias de Sousa, at Maryland History at Banneker-Douglass Museum and Bates Heritage Center.
    Read this week’s feature to find your niche. Then get up and delve into Maryland history.